Buddhism may be 2,500 years old, but in some ways it’s downright futuristic. In New Zealand, the Dorje Chang Institute has miniaturized a mantra written by the Dalai Lama and copied it onto microfilm 18 billion times. The film has now been placed inside an eight-foot-high prayer wheel, so that with every turn of the wheel, 18 billion mantras are offered for peace and goodwill. The institute eventually hopes to cram the wheel with 2.5 trillion copies of the mantra.
But even that astonishing goal has already been outstripped by Chuck Pettis and the Sakya Monastery of Seattle. Pettis, the temple’s president, hit on the idea of putting mantras and prayers onto DVDs, which can hold enormous amounts of information. With the approval of his teacher, J igdal Dagchen Sakya, he loaded 128 DVDs with trillions of traditional mantras. Then he placed them into a pair of one-foothigh copper wheels on his property at Whidbey Island, where they can be turned to generate merit.
Readers at home can get in on the blend of high-tech and old-time religion too. A personal computer’s hard drive spins thousands of times per minute. So saving even a single mantra on one’s computer would ensure enough repetitions to leave even the greatest old-style prayer wheeler with carpal tunnel syndrome.
Some folks seem to take the idea of the dharma as a vehicle rather literally. Venezia Walkie, a British expat who lives in Bangkok, has come up with an unusual method of propagating the dharma. She’s developed attachments for bicycle wheels that are covered with Buddhist messages and images, which she plans to give away for free. Bystanders would be instructed in the path to nirvana as cyclists whizzed by. Walkie is already organizing trips through various parts of Thailand to showcase the new Buddha bikes.
It would seem that a core tenet of Buddhism has been inadvertently ruled illegal by the Italian court system. In July a driver made the mistake of telling a parking attendant, “You are nobody!” A judge in the city of Trieste decided that declaring someone “a nonentity” constitutes slander and fined the driver 300 euros ($370), plus another 500 euros ($615) in court expenses. Meanwhile, other rulings have determined that it doesn’t constitute slander to call someone a “ball-breaker” or to say ‘I’ll kick your ass”—something to keep in mind the next time you get mad at an Italian parking attendant.
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Praku Uthaithamarat bowed to pressure earlier this year and removed the commercial advertisements from his Bangkok temple. The monk had started displaying ads for such patrons as the MK restaurant chain and the Bangkok Mass Transit System after receiving nearly $25,000 in corporate donations. But laypeople reacted with anger, especially over signs that hovered above a row of Buddha statues and pictures of monks with ceremonial fans stamped “MK.”
More Soothing than Kenny G
While the West experiments with genetic engineering and bovine growth hormone, some farmers in the East have found a less invasive way to increase their farm production. A number of Taiwanese farmers have begun playing tapes of Buddhist chants to their ducks in order to calm them during the island’s long, hot summers. According to one report, the chants increased the number of eggs laid by 25 percent, and led the ducks to lay more protein-rich, double-yolk eggs.
In Sri Lanka, chants were used earlier this year to placate a swarm of angry wasps. The insects managed to close one of the country’s top tourist attractions when they drove visitors from a fifth-century fortress after schoolchildren threw rocks at their hive. Rather than calling Terminix, officials brought in monks to offer oil lamps, incense, and prayers to calm the wasps, allowing the site to reopen. Not everyone was disturbed by the incident, however. The wasps are believed to be the reincarnation of the king who built the famous landmark, and one newspaper thanked them for chastising indecent tourists wearing miniskirts and hot pants by stinging them in the butt.
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